COUP RUMORS, GENERAL KHIN NYUNT AND AND PURGES IN THE MYANMAR REGIME IN THE 2000s

MYANMAR REGIME IN THE 2000s

In the 1990s and 2000s Myanmar government (the State Peace and Development Council, SPDC) was led by a troika: 1) Than Shwe, Senior General in the SPDC, the highest formal SPDC position; 2) Maung Aye, Deputy Senior General Army and army chief; and 3) Gen. Khin Nyunt, the Prime Minister and director of military intelligence and former first secretary.

In the 1990s Than Shwe was viewed as only a nominal leader who was not as powerful as Gen. Khin Nyunt. But by the 2000s he was regarded as No. 1, with Maung Aye as No. 2 and Khin Nyunt as No. 3. There was reportedly a lot of bad blood and rivalry between Maung Aye and Khin Nyunt. Than Shwe and Khin Nyunt reportedly worked together to oust Saw Maung, the leader of Myanmar from 1988 to 1991.

Than Shwe was regarded as a hardliner while Khin Nyunt was considered more liberal and willing to compromise with pro-democracy forces and the international community. Maung Aye was regarded as most suspicious and inward looking of the troika. He was sort of like the Myanmar equivalent of Li Peng.

Alleged Coup Attempt by Ne Win’s Family in 2002

In March 2002, Ne Win’s son in law—Aye Zaw Win— and three of his grandsons—Aye Ne Win, Kyaw Ne Win and Zwe Ne Win were arrested for plotting to overthrow the military regime, with the help of an astrologer using black magic, and install Ne Win as Myanmar’s leader. Three high ranking officer were also arrested and more than 100 people with links to Ne Win were questioned.

According to the government, Aye Zaw Win, Aye Ne Win, Kyaw Ne Win and Zwe Ne Win plotted to take power by recruiting military units to kidnap and coerce ruling junta members to give up power and swear allegiance to Ne Win. The plotters were allegedly apprehended with voodoo dolls of regime leaders in their possession. They were reportedly upset over Ne Win’s waning influence and wanted to regain some of their power and privilege.

Aye Zaw Win, Aye Ne Win, Kyaw Ne Win and Zwe Ne Win were sentenced to death for treason and other crimes. They appealed the decision and were given life sentences. They claimed they were victims of a political struggle within the military regime. The four men were widely regarded in Burma as flashy playboys who bullied their way around using their family name, drove flashy cars and got into fights at nightclubs.

Ne Win and his daughter, Sandar Win, his son in law and three of grandsons were confined to a villa on the same lake as Aung San Suu Kyi house. They pleaded innocent. The arrest were made after the government received a tip from a colonel who had been approached by the conspirators. See Ne Win

Shake Up in the SPDC in 2001 and 2003

In November 2001, a few months after the No. 4 general, Tin Oo, and two cabinet ministers were killed in helicopter crash, there was a major shake up in the SPDC. Seven top ranking officials were sacked and young members from the provinces were brought in to fill their positions. The shuffle was described as “old wine in a new bottle” and didn’t mark any policy changes. The men that were ousted were said to have been sacked because of corruption but that seems unlikely since the whole regime was regarded as corrupt.

In August 2003, the most extensive shake up in six years occurred: Lieut. Gen.Khin Nyunt was named the Prime Minister and formally removed from the SPDC. At the time he was regarded as the third-ranking general in the ruling junta. It is unclear what the change meant. Some saw this as a purge or at least demotion. Other saw it as a promotion. He remained the head of Myanmar’s military intelligence and the leader of Myanmar’s main think tank and was still believed to be to wield a lot of power. At the same time a dozen or so ministers were dismissed and replaced with new people. Khin Nyunt replaced Gen. Than Shew as prime minister. Than Shew kept his positions as defense minister, commander of the armed forces and chief of the junta and remained the effective leader of the country.

General Khin Nyunt

The SPDC was headed, many analysts for a while believed, by Lieut. Gen. Khin Nyunt, the clever and calculating director of military intelligence. He was protege of Ne Win and had been described as the "first among equals." He was known within the junta as Secretary 1 and many ordinary people in Myanmar referred to him as "S-1."

Regarded as a moderate, and even a liberal reformer, Khin Nyunt spent the period between 1998 and 2004 in the limelight when he held different top positions in the then ruling military regime, such as the SPDC’s Secretary 1, prime minister and chief of Military Intelligence.

The inner workings of the junta were such a mystery at that time it was not known exactly how much power Khin Nyunt actually wielded. He was the Myanmar general who had the most contact with the international community and many tended to assume he was the main guy without really knowing if that was indeed the truth. By most estimates he was the No. 3 man in Myanmar in the early 2000s.

General Khin Nyunt speaks good English and is married to a doctor. He was born in 1937. Unlike Ne Win who often sought advise on political matters from fortunetellers and took frequent holiday visits to Europe, Khin Nyunt was known for working 18-hour days and seeking advise from Western-educated economists and scholars. His reputation was relatively unsullied by corruption but there were some concerns over his role in military intelligence, an organization notorious for its brutality and has overseen the torture and disappearance of dissidents. [Source: Philip Shenon, New York Times]

Khin Nyunt, the Reformer ?

Gen. Khin Nyunt was the general who had proposed a "roadmap to democracy.” He also favored a more liberal approach to dealing with Myanmar's pro-democracy movement and Aung San Suu Kyi. An American congressman who met the general in 1994 told the New York Times, he was "a pragmatic individual who is insincere about wanting to resolve the differences in his country." But is unclear how truly liberal he is.” One diplomat told around the same time the New York Times, "Khin Nyunt and those around him may have decided that it is time for Burma to re-enter the world. Not because they have to. Perhaps just because it is embarrassing for the generals to be such pariahs in the world."

On democracy, Gen. Khin Nyunt said, “Such a transition cannot be done in haste and in a haphazard manner....The world is full of example of hasty transition form one system to another led to unrest and even failed states. . The democracy that were seek to build may not be identical to that which prevails in the West but it will surely be based on universal principles of liberty, justice and equality.”

According to to Xinhua: “Khin Nyunt had been the first secretary of the State Law and Restoration Council (renamed as State Peace and Development Council in 1997) since the military council took over the power of state in September 1988 at the height of the country's then political crisis until he became prime minister in August 2003 when he announced Myanmar's "Seven-Step Roadmap to Democracy" for the first time. He was also a person known as bringing back a number of anti- government ethnic armed groups to the government's legal fold in its peace efforts and leading in building a number of transport infrastructure after the military take-over, analysts viewed. [Source: Xinhua, January 13, 2012]

In April 2012, The Bangkok Post newspaper published a recording of a conversation with Khin Nyunt. In it, according to The Irrawaddy, he claims to have personally intervened to save the life of Aung San Suu Kyi when a pro-junta mob attacked her motorcade in Sagaing Division in 2003, killing at least 70 of her supporters. “I sent my men to snatch her from the mob that night and they brought her to safety to a nearby army cantonment,” he was quoted as saying. Later, however, Khin Nyunt denied that he had made the claim and the Special Branch, a Burmese security unit, put out a statement that rejected The Bangkok Post article. [Source: The Irrawaddy, March 20, 2013]

Ouster of Khin Nyunt

In October 2004 Khin Nyunt—then prime minister and intelligence chief—was ousted and was indirectly linked to a major corruption scandal. Officially the government announced he resigned for “health reasons.” He was placed under house arrest. In 2005 criminal charges were brought against several military intelligence officers concerning illegal economic activities, including illicit possession of foreign exchange. Khin Nyunt was replaced as prime minister by Lt. Gen. Soe Wun, regarded as hardliner. Even though Myanmar’s junta originally announced that Khin Nyunt was retiring for health reasons, it later brought criminal charges against him. Some analysts said Khin Nyunt was dismissed because his position as head of military intelligence brought him into disagreement with Burma's senior leader, Gen Than Shwe.

Xinhua reported: Khin Nyunt was removed from post in October 2004 on charges of involvement in major bribery and corruption cases and violations of the army discipline, insubordination and the commitment of certain illegal acts. Three days after his removal, Khin Nyunt's the National Intelligence Bureau was dissolved with dozens of his former intelligence officials being charged and put into prisons in connection with the bribery cases. [Source: Xinhua, January 13, 2012]

The ouser of Khin Nyunt brought the reform and liberalization process at the time plus reconciliation efforts with minority insurgent groups to a halt. In 2004, as head of military intelligence, he was set to talks with Aung San Suu Kyi and was perceived as a rival center of authority within the dictatorship. The Los Angeles Times reported: “When then-Prime Minister Khin Nyunt seemed too willing to negotiate with the opposition in 2004, Than Shwe sentenced him to 44 years in jail and removed 3,000 affiliated officials, diplomats and United Nations officials said.” [Source: Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times, May 23, 2008]

Than Shwe seemed more bellicose and unyielding and Myanmar became worse off after Khin Nyunt was ousted

Khin Nyunt and People Linked to Him Imprisoned

After being arrested in October 2004, Khin Nyunt and many of his allies were imprisoned at Insein, a gulag that one former prisoner called the "darkest hellhole in Burma," which is saying something in a nation with some of the worst jails on Earth. [Source: Joshua Kurlantzick, Washington Post , April 23, 2006]

Khin Nyunt was sentenced to a 44-year suspended sentence in July 2005 by a special court at Yangon's Insein Jail on such charges as including bribery and corruption. He served the sentence by remaining under house arrest at his home instead of in prison after the sentence was handed down on him, according to early report. His two sons, 38 of his subordinates and his fortuneteller were sent to prison. [Source: Xinhua, January 13, 2012 ^^]

Asiantribune.com reported: “Agency reports revealed that Lt. General Khin Nyunt was convicted on eight charges, including corruption and bribery, after the closed-door trial. Khin Nyunt's two sons were also found guilty. It was revealed that at a secret tribunal located at the notorious Insein prison facility, handed down prison sentences of 68 years and 51 years respectively to the two of Khin Nyunt’s sons, Zaw Naing Oo and Ye Naing Win. Their charges included export-import violations, possession of public property, bribery and corruption, but unlike their father they are to serve their sentences in prison, the source said. The status of Khin Nyunt’s wife, who was also facing trial, was not immediately known. [Source: Asiantribune.com and agencies, July 24, 2005]

Some 300 people linked to Khin Nyunt stood trial, with more than 40 of them tried and convicted, mainly for economic crimes. In April 2005, 38 military intelligence officers associated with Gen. Khin Nyunt received long prison terms. They were given prison sentences of 20 to more than 100 years on charges such as bribery, corruption, illegal possession of arms, and violations of foreign exchange, import-export and communications laws.

Khin Nyunt Freed

Khin Nyunt was given amnesty by President Thein Sein in January 2012. Xinhua reported: “Myanmar former Prime Minister U Khin Nyunt was among as many as over 600 prisoners being freed by the government under the amnesty order endorsed by President U Thein Sein, official sources confirmed. Along with Khin Nyunt, 200 of his followers were also released. Among them are two of his sons -- Zaw Naing Oo, an ex-army officer, and Ye Naing Win, an ex-businessman, who were serving long years' jail terms for a number of economic offenses including export- import violations and illegal possession of public property. [Source: Xinhua, January 13, 2012 >>]

“According to the president's amnesty order, 651 prisoners are being freed from jails across the country under Section 401/1 of Code of Criminal Procedure which is clarified as a legal right of action exercised by the president. The amnesty was aimed mainly at enabling them to take part in national reconciliation and political process. >>

At that time there were rumors that the former spy master had ambitions to re-enter Burma’s political arena, but during a brief encounter with The Irrawaddy’s publisher Aung Zaw he denied these claims.

Impact of the Ouster of Khin Nyunt

Alan Sipress wrote in the Washington Post, “ Burma's gradual retreat from contact with the outside world began in October 2004, when Than Shwe fired his prime minister, Gen. Khin Nyunt, and ordered his arrest, ostensibly for corruption. While Khin Nyunt had been head of military intelligence, some Asian governments regarded him as a moderating force on the issue of democratic change. [Source: Alan Sipress, Washington Post, December 28, 2005 ::]

“He was also the rulers' main interlocutor with foreign governments and agencies. With his removal, the government purged several allied cabinet ministers who had experience working with the United Nations. Since then, Burma also has tightened travel restrictions on foreigners and threatened to withdraw from the International Labor Organization over its criticisms. ::

Outside Suu Kyi's home, her party's flag -- a gold peacock on a red field -- has faded. Members of her party said no one has been able to replace it. About 300 of their offices have been shut down by the government, leaving only the national headquarters, a two-floor storefront operation cluttered with creaky, old wooden furniture and stacks of musty files. Some members are jailed and others are barred from holding meetings, party officials reported. "They won't let us move an inch," explained one of the party's leaders, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisal. "What is our plan? To survive. We are still here after 17 years and this is how we intend to stay." But another party figure was more melancholy than defiant. "We are not pushing anything," said the activist, who had been elected to parliament in the 1990 vote. "We are just floating on the political current. We are trying not to drown.” ::

There were other purges around the time Khin Nyunt was ousted. In September 2004, four ministers, including foreign minister Win Aung, were dismissed. Three more cabinet members were purged in August 2005. In June 2006, eight deputy cabinet ministers and a Supreme Court judge were purged. Myanmar radio said: “The State Peace and Development Council has permited the following deputy ministers to retire with effect.” “Permitted to retire” is the euphemism often used by the military government when purging senior officials.

Junta Tightens Control in Myanmar

In August 2005, AFP reported: “The military government is now showing increasing signs of further centralising its power and tightening up its control in every respect,” said one local analyst. Diplomats have noted that Myanmar is making life more difficult for United Nations agencies in Yangon, as well as for non-governmental organizations which find it harder to work in the field as their travel becomes more restricted. The junta is also returning its focus to implementing what it calls its seven-point “road map to democracy”. It has organized a series of public rallies at which military-sponsored groups as well as “reserve forces” such as war veterans roundly denounce “internal and external destructionists”, condemn international groups like the UN’s International Labor Organization, and back the military’s political agenda. [Source: AFP, August 15, 2005 |||]

“Drafting a new constitution is the first step on the road map but the National Convention tasked with the job was suspended in late March. Veteran Myanmar politician Win Naing said the junta is obsessed with its pursuit of the road map, which Western governments and the U.N. have dismissed as a sham. “The military authorities firmly believe that their long declared seven-point political road map is the only way out from their present predicament,” Win Naing told AFP. “They are therefore totally determined to go through with it, like it or not.” |||

“The military also plans to centralize its operations by moving the seat of government to Pyinmana 600 kilometers (360 miles) north of Yangon, where a 100-million-dollar complex is being built, military and construction sources said. Only seven percent of the complex is complete, construction sources said, but the military appears poised to move at least some operations there within months. |||

“Meanwhile, contributors to private journals and magazines say they face heightened pressure from government and have received thinly-veiled threats to toe the line. The Foreign Correspondents Club, ostensibly an independent institution, has been “kindly requested” by the information minister to keep him briefed on its activities. The economy remains on the slide, and the government has imposed new regulations for export-import licences that now can only be issued by the trade council, the highest authorizing body. |||

“The tightening of controls comes as the military is scrambling to recover millions of dollars lost in a well-planned scam by one of their own trusted businessmen who funneled off money and gold bullion before fleeing to Singapore, according to Myanmar business owners. The culprit was the brother-in-law of a former agriculture minister and the ex-minister is a close confidant of supreme ruler Senior General Than Shwe, they said. The former agriculture minister and his wife have been jailed for their alleged part in the plot. Possibly as part of the effort to track down the missing money, the state-run Myanma Economic Bank last week took over the operations of the privately owned Myanmar Universal Bank.” |||

Naypyidaw: the New Capital of Myanmar

Joshua Hammer wrote in The New Yorker, Naypyidaw “was carved out of the jungle five hours north of Rangoon, along the nation’s only eight-lane expressway. It is a sprawling, low-density metropolis with wide, empty boulevards, grandiose state architecture, and golf courses where regime insiders cut deals in the tropical heat. One Western diplomat who visits there frequently told me, “You can’t imagine what a diversion of resources it represents, and it’s still growing.” Construction began discreetly in 2002. [Source: Joshua Hammer, The New Yorker, January 24, 2011]

Brook Larmer wrote in National Geographic: “If you come to Nay Pyi Taw looking for clues about Myanmar's leadership, the first thing you'll find is an unsettling void: smooth ten-lane roads with manicured roundabouts but scarcely any vehicles, clusters of color-coded government housing complexes with no children in sight, a copy of Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda with not a single Buddhist monk chanting prayers. It all feels like an abandoned movie set until you drive toward the military zone, an off-limits area where Than Shwe keeps his home and secretive high command. There, beyond the rumbling army trucks and the vast parade ground, stand the symbols of the regime: massive statues of Myanmar's three most revered ancient kings. [Source: Brook Larmer, National Geographic, August 2011 **]

“Welcome to the Abode of Kings, Myanmar's capital as of 2005, a strange utopia built on fear and hubris. A former mailman who honed his skills in the army's psychological-warfare department, Than Shwe self-consciously assumed the mantle of Myanmar's ancient monarchs—to the point where supplicants reportedly must use a royal form of Burmese to address him and his wife. Myanmar's kings had a penchant for building new capitals as legacies of their rule, from the pagodas at Pagan to the royal palace in Mandalay. Now there's Nay Pyi Taw. **

“The new capital may feel soulless, but for rulers distrustful of their own people, it could be a masterpiece of defensive urban planning. Worried about an imminent attack in Yangon, Than Shwe poured several billion dollars into building the city on scrubland in central Myanmar, safe from killer storms, foreign invasion, and domestic protests. In design, Nay Pyi Taw is not really a city but a series of isolated zones dispersed over an area larger than Rhode Island. Government ministries, once clustered in crowded Yangon, are laid out at wide intervals, accessible only by heavily patrolled roads. The military zone is a bubble within a bubble, forbidden to all but top officers—and reportedly honeycombed with underground bunkers. **

Kenneth Denby wrote in The Times: “Even before you have arrive in Naypyidaw, it is obvious the world’s newest capital is a place like no other in Burma. It is not just the isolation, in a jungle 320km from the sea; it’s not just the active discouragement of foreigners, which is circumvented easily enough. It is the road leading into it. Ten lanes wide, cut flat and straight through hills and forests, it is the grandest and fastest stretch of road in a country where potholed tracks qualify as major highways. Occasionally, a cement lorry or a rickety open-backed minibus drives past. But otherwise, the traffic consists of sputtering motorbikes, horse-drawn carts and lines of women carrying baskets on their heads. The grandiose public buildings and shopping centers, like the broad roads, are meant as a model of the advanced Asian city, but many of them stand empty and unused. Unknown millions have been lavished on the new capital’s construction, in a country where most people live on less than a dollar a day. [Source: Kenneth Denby, The Times, October 16, 2007]

The new capital is near Pyinmana, a trading town on a highway between Yangon and Mandalay. It is situated among mountains and dense forests. Malaria is said to rife in the area, Yangon is located on a naviagable river near the sea. Naoji Shibata wrote in the Asahi Shimbun in 2005, “Pyinmana has a population of about 30,000 and is an agricultural production center for sugar cane and bamboo shoots. It's also prone to malaria, full of poisonous snakes and generally a miserable backwater. Its inaccessible location is intended to protect the junta of Senior General Than Shwe, but many believe the Government’s increased isolation is hastening its downfall. [Source: Naoji Shibata, Asahi Shimbun, December 28, 2005]

Moving to Myanmar’s New Capital

Alan Sipress wrote in the Washington Post: “Military trucks rumble up in front of Rangoon's ministries several times a week and workers lug ancient desks, chairs and filing cabinets to the waiting vehicles. The convoys depart at daybreak on a 12-hour journey along roads badly rutted and pocked, then return for another load. Burma's military rulers are rapidly transferring the country's century-old capital from Rangoon to the desolate, rocky terrain of Pyinmana about 200 miles to the north, aiming to empty most offices by the end of next month. Distraught civil servants, among the thousands scheduled to relocate, have wept in front of foreign officials. Some government employees have asked to quit, including many at the Irrigation Ministry who tried to resign en masse, but have been told that is forbidden, according to their family members. "The government's crazy. Everybody hates this idea," said Soe, a deliveryman whose cousin, a military officer, has been transferred. "This Pyinmana, I wish I could blow the place up."[Source: Alan Sipress, Washington Post, December 28, 2005 <<]

Senior Burmese ministers were given just two days' notice of the relocation from the port city of Rangoon to the heartland of the majority Burman ethnic group. Witnesses recounted seeing the initial convoy depart Rangoon at precisely 6:37 a.m., a time that many Burmese attribute to the counsel of government astrologers. As the trucks pulled away from the ministries, including several housed in red brick Victorian buildings dating to the colonial era, army officers led a ritual chant of "We're leaving! We're leaving!" Only the next day did the Foreign Ministry notify foreign diplomats that the capital had left town. "You can communicate with the Myanmar government by letter. If you have an urgent matter, you can send a letter by fax," said an Asian diplomat, repeating the instructions he had been given by the Foreign Ministry. "Can you believe that?" <<

On hearing the news about the move, one government worker told Reuters.“We couldn’t believe our ears. The room fell completely silent. Some of us were close to tears.” He and his colleagues were given a few hours to gather some food and belongings before being loaded onto Chinese-made trucks. “We left at 6:37am sharp. It was a very long convoy, as long as they eye could see.” He said the timing seems to have been chosen by astrologers. He said when they arrived at the mosquito infested capital, the buildings were half finished. “We had to sleep on the floor and others slept on tables.” According to the Washington Post In one ministry building, about 90 people slept on the floor. Higher-ranking officials camped out atop desks and tables. There were few signs of the schools, hospitals, shopping mall and luxury hotels the government has promised.

Naoji Shibata wrote in the Asahi Shimbun: “One Myanmar woman, an official in an economy-related ministry, had been earning a degree at the graduate school of a university in Yangon part-time. She was ordered to transfer to the new capital just before her final exams were to be held this month. She packed a bag with necessities and headed to Pyinmana, saying goodbye to her exams and the chance to graduate. A man in his 50s, an official in the Home Affairs Ministry, was also ordered to Pyinmana recently, along with his section chief. When they arrived, they found there were no apartments built yet, so they are sleeping at their offices. They eat meals prepared by co-workers. [Source: Naoji Shibata, Asahi Shimbun, December 28, 2005]

Coup Rumors in 2005

In August 2005, rumors of a coup pushed up the price of gold and weakened the local currency. There were rumors that ruling junta chairman Sr. Gen. Than Shwe was deposed bu his deputy Gen. Maung Aye. In January there were also rumors of a coup. Aung Hla Tun of Reuters wrote: “ Rumors swirled in army-ruled Myanmar and neighboring Thailand that junta strongman Senior General Than Shwe has been removed by the powerful army commander. Reports suggested Than Shwe, head of the military junta, had been ousted by number two General Maung Aye although Yangon was calm and people said there was no extra security on the streets. [Source: Aung Hla Tun, Reuters, August 24, 2005 <<]

“A Thai intelligence official told Reuters his organization was trying to determine the truth of the Rumors in the absence of official comment from the Yangon government. “We’ve heard Maung Aye has seized power from Than Shwe, citing allegations of corruption and his involvement in illegal trade of weapons,” he said. He said Thura Shwe Man, the number three general in the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), was rumored to have been assigned to investigate Than Shwe’s alleged crimes. However, Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon told reporters: “So far, everything is just a rumor.” Soe Myint, editor of the pro-democracy Mizzima News Web site mizzima.com, which is based in New Delhi, said there had been tension among the generals for some time. “From what I have heard, a five-member group of generals led by General Maung Aye staged the coup during a weekly cabinet meeting on Monday,” he told Reuters in the Indian capital. “The group accused Than Shwe of nepotism and said he was incapable of running the country. Ever since, there has been a total blackout and there has been no news from the cabinet meeting,” Soe Myint said. <<

“Than Shwe has not been seen on state television since August 20 when he met U.N. envoy and former Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, but official newspapers reported his recent message of congratulations to Ukraine on its independence day . Diplomats in Yangon said they believed he was on a provincial tour. “We understand he is out of town and this rumor did not start in Yangon, but outside the country,” a Southeast Asian diplomat said. <<

“The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) also played down the Rumors. “So far as we can confirm, this rumor is more likely not to be true. The situation across the city is quite normal,” NLD spokesman Nyan Win told Reuters. But the Thai language newspaper Phuchatkan reported on its Web site at manager.co.th that Maung Aye, the army commander-in-chief had ordered Than Shwe detained at a Yangon hospital on Tuesday. “General Maung Aye has taken over power since midnight on August 23,” the newspaper said, citing Thai intelligence sources. <<

Two days later, Aung Hla Tun of Reuters wrote: “The whereabouts of Than Shwe, leader of Myanma’s secretive junta, remained a mystery, but rumors he had been ousted by the army chief were dying rapidly. The most popular explanation was that Than Shwe, who appears in the media only rarely, was in a hospital in Yangon’s military zone and General Maung Aye, the army chief and number two in the junta, was acting in his stead. "So far as weve heard, he was sent to the Mingaladon military hospital. We dont know any further details," said U Lwin, the spokesman for detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyis National League for Democracy (NLD). CNN reported: “Myanmar has rejected rumors that its military leader was ill and had been deposed. At a news conference in Yangon, the capital, Minister of Information Kyaw Hsan said Senior General Than Shwe remained in good health and in charge of the country. Rumors that Than Shwe was ill and that there had been a coup spread throughout the region last week. [Sources: Aung Hla Tun Reuters, August 26, 2005, CNN, August 28, 2005]

On the coup rumors in January, Associated Press reported: “Burma denied that a coup d’etat had taken place in the military-ruled country, but hinted at possible changes in the Cabinet. “No, no, no,” Burma’s Foreign Minister Nyan Win said, responding to questions about rumors of a leadership change that have swept the country’s capital, Rangoon, in recent days. “It’s all just rumors,” he said with a laugh. “Everything there is fine.” Footage shown Friday night on Burma’s state television of the junta’s top two leaders and Prime Minister Lt-Gen Soe Win attending an official function together bolstered his assertion. [Source: Associated Press, January 29, 2005 =+]

“Diplomats in Rangoon had said this week they were expecting Soe Win to lose his position, as unverifiable stories circulated of a power struggle that according to some accounts may have included a gunfight among the country’s military rulers. The three men at the center of the speculation—junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe, second-ranking Dep Snr-Gen Maung Aye and Soe Win—were shown on the first report of the evening news attending a meeting in Rangoon with ethnic minority students... Adding to the sense of political unease in Burma had been the unexplained death of Lt-Col Bo Win Tun, the personal assistant to Maung Aye. Although it is widely believed that he took his own life, for reasons unknown, a report by the opposition Democratic Voice of Burma radio station, based in Norway, suggested he died in a shootout. =+

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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